D&D General Not Railroad, Not Sandbox ... What else is there?

Torranocca

Villager
So again we have more understanding. Now if we consider the opening question of” Sandbox” and “Railroad” “what else is there?” Maybe where my appoach diverges from these will become more apparent. Why I believe that “Sandbox” vs “Railroad” is a false dichotomy and neither is actually how anyone truly plays D&D consistently or sustainably.
There has been a lot of previous discussions on the roles and workloads of both DMs and Players. I don’t want to go off on a tangent, only point out that those who advocate for the idea that Game Mastering is no more work then playing and the DM has no authority outside a specific interpretation of the letter of the rules, is in for an adversarial and mostly unenjoyable game.
What decades of Game Mastering has taught me is to build and run a living game world that is both internally consistent and has the openness and flexibility to accommodate fantastic elements and chaos. I crate and run a game world and then invite players to create characters to bring into that world. They then get to explore, interact, effect, change, add to or subtract from what has been created and is still ongoing in creation. Or not… the players can be complete tourists and do nothing involving risk or heroism. If they are going to come in like wrecking balls just to see what chaos, havoc and destruction they can create? Well that’s a choice also. They should not be shocked that the setting/ world has foils and defenses against such actions and players decrying “ this is a railroad plot! We can’t do anything we want…” falls on deaf and chuckling ears. 😁
My responsibility as DM is to create and run a game settings that has a life of its own while constantly fabricating new and interesting plot hooks to entice the players to get involved and explore deeper. This to me , is the essence of the play, This is not a “sandbox” but may contain within it something like sandboxes.
Just as in a published module is not in a “ Railroad” plot. It is a structured story with limited outcomes. The means and ways for the player characters to interact with the story is still wide open, just not unlimited.
As an example: One cannot show up to a hockey game with a basketball and then insist the settings conform to their desires. That is outside the nature and structure of the game.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
Interesting perspective. “Sandbox and sandboing” and “ Railroad/Railroading/Train plots” were in common parlance in at least the 1980s so not coined or invented in the 2000s. Not sure what the rest of what was written differentiates or deviates from what has already been discussed?
 

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Torranocca

Villager
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
So again we have more understanding. Now if we consider the opening question of” Sandbox” and “Railroad” “what else is there?” Maybe where my appoach diverges from these will become more apparent. Why I believe that “Sandbox” vs “Railroad” is a false dichotomy and neither is actually how anyone truly plays D&D consistently or sustainably.
There has been a lot of previous discussions on the roles and workloads of both DMs and Players. I don’t want to go off on a tangent, only point out that those who advocate for the idea that Game Mastering is no more work then playing and the DM has no authority outside a specific interpretation of the letter of the rules, is in for an adversarial and mostly unenjoyable game.
What decades of Game Mastering has taught me is to build and run a living game world that is both internally consistent and has the openness and flexibility to accommodate fantastic elements and chaos. I crate and run a game world and then invite players to create characters to bring into that world. They then get to explore, interact, effect, change, add to or subtract from what has been created and is still ongoing in creation. Or not… the players can be complete tourists and do nothing involving risk or heroism. If they are going to come in like wrecking balls just to see what chaos, havoc and destruction they can create? Well that’s a choice also. They should not be shocked that the setting/ world has foils and defenses against such actions and players decrying “ this is a railroad plot! We can’t do anything we want…” falls on deaf and chuckling ears.
😁

My responsibility as DM is to create and run a game settings that has a life of its own while constantly fabricating new and interesting plot hooks to entice the players to get involved and explore deeper. This to me , is the essence of the play, This is not a “sandbox” but may contain within it something like sandboxes.
Just as in a published module is not in a “ Railroad” plot. It is a structured story with limited outcomes. The means and ways for the player characters to interact with the story is still wide open, just not unlimited.
As an example: One cannot show up to a hockey game with a basketball and then insist the settings conform to their desires. That is outside the nature and structure of the game.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the
 

Torranocca

Villager
So again we have more understanding. Now if we consider the opening question of” Sandbox” and “Railroad” “what else is there?” Maybe where my appoach diverges from these will become more apparent. Why I believe that “Sandbox” vs “Railroad” is a false dichotomy and neither is actually how anyone truly plays D&D consistently or sustainably.
There has been a lot of previous discussions on the roles and workloads of both DMs and Players. I don’t want to go off on a tangent, only point out that those who advocate for the idea that Game Mastering is no more work then playing and the DM has no authority outside a specific interpretation of the letter of the rules, is in for an adversarial and mostly unenjoyable game.
What decades of Game Mastering has taught me is to build and run a living game world that is both internally consistent and has the openness and flexibility to accommodate fantastic elements and chaos. I crate and run a game world and then invite players to create characters to bring into that world. They then get to explore, interact, effect, change, add to or subtract from what has been created and is still ongoing in creation. Or not… the players can be complete tourists and do nothing involving risk or heroism. If they are going to come in like wrecking balls just to see what chaos, havoc and destruction they can create? Well that’s a choice also. They should not be shocked that the setting/ world has foils and defenses against such actions and players decrying “ this is a railroad plot! We can’t do anything we want…” falls on deaf and chuckling ears.
😁

My responsibility as DM is to create and run a game settings that has a life of its own while constantly fabricating new and interesting plot hooks to entice the players to get involved and explore deeper. This to me , is the essence of the play, This is not a “sandbox” but may contain within it something like sandboxes.
Just as in a published module is not in a “ Railroad” plot. It is a structured story with limited outcomes. The means and ways for the player characters to interact with the story is still wide open, just not unlimited.
As an example: One cannot show up to a hockey game with a basketball and then insist the settings conform to their desires. That is outside the nature and structure of the game.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
It boils down to are you as the referee willing to let players "trash" your setting. If the answer is yes then you are probably running some sort of sandbox. If not then likely you are railroading the players in some way. I use the word trash deliberately as it has a negative connotation when it comes to expectations and plans.

I have been writing and blogging about sandbox campaigns for two decades and always have been consistent in the terms I use and how I use them. I was part of the group that originally popularized the term sandbox to describe a type of roleplaying campaign. It was coined in the early 2000s as a way to describe what the $70 Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was good for by the team of authors, including myself. To our pleasant surprise, it snowballed from there and its use grew beyond the discussion of the Wilderlands.

There are a lot of nuances to running a sandbox campaign. But the core of it is the idea is that players can always go left instead of right. That the worse consequence of doing that as far as the logistics of running a campaign goes is the referee saying "OK I need a week to prepare my notes on how to handle what the party plans to do".

This is in contrast to the other approaches to running campaigns where there are out-of-game fences around what the players can and can't do.




Perhaps counterproductive to your idea of what an RPG is but not to mine. What I do is create settings that have interesting places to adventure in as well as interesting situations to experience. I have a group of players make some characters that fit within the setting. I work with them to figure out where their characters are at the beginning of the campaign. Then after the campaign starts, they are free to do pursue whatever goals they have for their characters in the manner they see fit.

I use the mechanics of a game to make this happen in a way that is fun and interesting to all involved including me. The use of a game cuts down what I have to explain on how the setting works. Game mechanics are an effective and concise way of communicating the most common options and their consequences to the players. The use of a game allows me to resolve what the players try to do as their characters in a fair, consistent, and impartial manner.

As for the illusionary part, there are limitations imposed by how the setting is defined. Unless there are some fantastic or supernatural elements involved a character can't flap their arms and fly in a fantasy medieval setting. But in a Traveller campaign where the characters are on a low-G world with a dense atmosphere, they may be able to do just that. Other than that, the players are free to do whatever their character can do within the setting.

There is more to it but that is the general gist.
Interesting perspective. “Sandbox and sandboing” and “ Railroad/Railroading/Train plots” were in common parlance in at least the 1980s so not coined or invented in the 2000s. Not sure what the rest of what was written differentiates or deviates from what has already been discussed?
 

Torranocca

Villager
I started out with hex and counter wargames in the late 70s and then started playing D&D off and on starting in 1978. But it didn't become my main source of gaming until the release of the DMG in the summer of 1979.

What leaped out at me compared to the wargames I played was D&D's flexibility. Not only in terms of what we now call settings but in terms of what you could do. While AD&D had rules to handle a lot of things, it was obvious to my junior high self that you could do anything that you could do if you were actually there as your character. This was helped by the setup of having a referee and a bunch of players. D&D wasn't oriented to resolve conflicts between players or the players and the referee. There were no victory conditions. Just vague goals of survival and going on adventures.

All of this was in marked contrast to the wargames I played where one or players went at each other to achieve some type of victory conditions. That in order to be fair you had to play by the rules of the game. Those rules could be very detailed creating a lot of options to use to achieve the various victory conditions. D&D in contrast jettisoned all that despite often using many of the same types of mechanics wargames use. And it made D&D a far more interesting and flexible game.

There was a short period of time that my focus was on running the adventures I bought. But I quickly realized on my own that I could use D&D's flexibility to create my own worlds. That the players could have any type of adventures they want to pursue in those worlds. Given that we were 13 to 14-year-old junior high schoolers what most of us wanted to do is carve out our own realms or niches as the end goal. Players who like wizards wanted to build towers and make magic items to sell and use. Players who played fighters wanted to become lords or even kings. Thieves wanted t take over or found their own thieves guild and so on.

And I was amicable to this and rapidly became known as the DM who let players trash his setting. My reputation grew because I used what the player did in the previous campaign to become part of the background of the setting for the next campaign. Adventures still happened however they were a means to an end but not the point of the campaign.

As I and the people I refereed grew older the goals became more sophisticated. It became more about making one's mark on the world. Not how I defined it or what the RPG nominally said, but what the players wanted to do.


As a result, the above was only true for a very brief period of time for me and for those who I gamed with. "Trashing my setting" was in full swing by 1980. I still have my earliest notes which folks can see in the below blog post.

The first campaign of the Majestic Wilderlands
This, as you have written, is in on point with much of what I was discussing. Started out with map and die cut games an tabletop miniature war gaming, in the 1970s also.👍
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
The concept you elude to as in “ arms race” has nothing to do with the situation I was writing about, whatsoever. The player was not power gaming or min/ maximg at all.( I have delt with plenty of those and rules lawyering over the decades)
The player explained to me that he intended to repay the weapons smith in spades, after he won fortune and fame. I of course broadly advised him of the possible ramifications of his actions before he committed to them.

So I'm having trouble following your stance based on the following:

It is not the DMs place to force players to play sensibly and it is not an adversarial relationship between players and DM that is fostered in game I run.
This is an example of what can often happen if you play hands off on character choice and do truest free open play.

How do these two sentences work together? It would appear that you consider too much freedom to be problematic due to the paladin/holy avenger example you shared. But you also seem to think that it's not the DM's place to help guide the players in some way.

How do you reconcile these two ideas? I would think that you could take away some player freedom to kind of limit the risk of one player going far afield of where you want things to go, but wouldn't that be the DM exerting control?
 

I've always called it Sandwalking.
You need to get from A to B. Do you stick to the road, do you go to C first, do you wander a little?

As long as you get to B the main/set plot continues; how you get there is an adventure/story in of itself if the parties wishes it.

Walking on the rail is the safe/quick; walking on the sand is more tricky but more interesting sonetimes
 

estar

Adventurer
Interesting perspective. “Sandbox and sandboing” and “ Railroad/Railroading/Train plots” were in common parlance in at least the 1980s so not coined or invented in the 2000s. Not sure what the rest of what was written differentiates or deviates from what has already been discussed?
Sandbox as a type of RPG campaign wasn't in use in the hobby or industry prior to the early 2000s. It was used as a synonym for settings or campaigns. For example, in Dragon magazine, the author would say "I welcome all players to my sandbox." And from the context of the article, it was clear you could easily substitute in " I welcome all players to my campaign." and the article would have read the same.

I say this with all seriousness, go ahead and try to find quotes from back in the day that uses sandbox. The best source I found to date is the Dragon Magazine Archive. But with the increase in scholarly research, there may be more resources now than ten years ago which was the last time I took a deep dive to document this stuff. If you do this then you will see what I saw, people used sandbox but as a synonym not a type of campaign.


I wrote about this on my blog.

Musing on Sandbox Campaigns

Which references this Enworld Thread

Sandbox Forked

The Enworld forums are a good place to see the evolution and the use of the term as its history extends before sandbox as a type of campaign was in use.

Finally, keep in mind I am talking about the name of the term itself, people were running sandbox campaigns since the beginning of the hobby. There just wasn't a formal name for it. In contrast railroading along with other terms like Monty Haul were in widespread use early on.

It was just with the Wilderlands boxed set project there was a critical mass of folks, including myself, that there were a lot of common elements to how we ran Wilderland campaigns. Then after we started discussing it we borrowed the use of sandbox from computer games (like Civilization) as a shorthand. Then finally we got other folks talking about how they did similar things with their campaigns and that this style was part of the hobby for a long time.
 

estar

Adventurer
This, as you have written, is in on point with much of what I was discussing. Started out with map and die cut games an tabletop miniature war gaming, in the 1970s also.👍
I didn't do miniature wargaming until much later. I lived in a small rural town in Northwest Pennsylvania. The D&D fad and wargame boom reached us, we didn't get everything that was out there.
 

Sooo....

Have we actually gotten anywhere since my first post on page 3, here? Because it doesn't seem like it. We all agree that "sandbox" and "railroad" are terms with meaning (whenever those terms came into being). And it's been generally agreed that it's possible to mix the two ideas: a "sandroad," a sequence of smaller sandboxes where the overall structure is "linear" but each area is a (semi-contained) free-for-all, or a "railbox," a collection of fixed-event adventures that are all purely opt-in such that the final path or destination of the campaign is hard to predict but each individual segment is "on rails."

The "bingo card" example is similar to a railbox on this analysis, while a sandroad is perhaps the ideal end result of the "card trick" example, where players feel they have had sufficient freedom but ultimately everything they did was All According To Plan. So those seem less like four distinct options and more like two options, each of which allows (at least) two further variations.

Then we have the "matrix" campaign, which seems to take elements of both railbox and sandbox: the GM works with the players to develop goals that the characters naturally want to pursue for one reason or another, and the world is then populated with threats and intrigues relevant to those goals. Clues can point proverbially inward to parts of the matrix already known, or they can point proverbially outward to new locations of interest. As time goes on, there will eventually be some limits, more analogous to the walls of the metaphorical "box."

There's been mention of "node-based" campaigns, but I'm not sure how those differ from either a matrix or a sandbox.
 


estar

Adventurer
The term railroad is overloaded in this context. What makes a railroad a railroad is the unwillingness to allow players to make other choices even when it is plausible to do so. Whether this is a "bad" thing or not depends on what the group wants to do. Traditionally it has been viewed as negative as a result of a referee's whims. However, there are positive circumstances where it is fine because of what the group wants out of the campaign. For example, a campaign where the players are the crew of a Starfleet vessel. They could desert, resign and do something else in the Star Trek Universe but out of the game, the group agrees that the focus is on being a crew of a Starfleet vessel.

A situation where the only plausible approach is to play it out as a linear series of events is not a railroad. It is just how things work out for that situation. Groups involved with undertaking missions for an organization or a patron will often be involved in situations like this.
 

estar

Adventurer
Have we actually gotten anywhere since my first post on page 3, here? Because it doesn't seem like it. We all agree that "sandbox" and "railroad" are terms with meaning (whenever those terms came into being). A
I think the issue is folks not stating clearly what they want out of a running tabletop campaign and explaining how their points tie back to that idea.

For example for me, I find it fun to see players how "trash' my setting regardless of genre and specifics. Everything I share about running a sandbox campaign stems from my experience of trying to make that fun and interesting over the decades. Not just for the players but for me as well.

Everything specific I do or share about roleplaying ties back to that central idea.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The term railroad is overloaded in this context. What makes a railroad a railroad is the unwillingness to allow players to make other choices even when it is plausible to do so. Whether this is a "bad" thing or not depends on what the group wants to do. Traditionally it has been viewed as negative as a result of a referee's whims. However, there are positive circumstances where it is fine because of what the group wants out of the campaign. For example, a campaign where the players are the crew of a Starfleet vessel. They could desert, resign and do something else in the Star Trek Universe but out of the game, the group agrees that the focus is on being a crew of a Starfleet vessel.

A situation where the only plausible approach is to play it out as a linear series of events is not a railroad. It is just how things work out for that situation. Groups involved with undertaking missions for an organization or a patron will often be involved in situations like this.
Yeah. This thread conflates linear with railroad. What is really being discussed here are linear games, not railroads.
 

Torranocca

Villager
So I'm having trouble following your stance based on the following:



How do these two sentences work together? It would appear that you consider too much freedom to be problematic due to the paladin/holy avenger example you shared. But you also seem to think that it's not the DM's place to help guide the players in some way.

How do you reconcile these two ideas? I would think that you could take away some player freedom to kind of limit the risk of one player going far afield of where you want things to go, but wouldn't that be the DM exerting control?
The sentences are easily rectifiable when you notice, at no time did I say it was problematic. This is what free play means. Was I happy about the player losing his character to terrible choices? Of course not. The players “job” is to make their own decisions and figure out how to navigate the consequences for good or ill. The DMs “ job” is the create an internally consistent game settings and make it fun and exciting. ( hopefully)
I present it the way I do because I have experienced many DMs who will distort game world reality and logic to save players from themselves. Not a problem either but a DM doing that tends to destroy suspension of disbelief and ruins the challenges the game is presenting.
Sandbox as a type of RPG campaign wasn't in use in the hobby or industry prior to the early 2000s. It was used as a synonym for settings or campaigns. For example, in Dragon magazine, the author would say "I welcome all players to my sandbox." And from the context of the article, it was clear you could easily substitute in " I welcome all players to my campaign." and the article would have read the same.

I say this with all seriousness, go ahead and try to find quotes from back in the day that uses sandbox. The best source I found to date is the Dragon Magazine Archive. But with the increase in scholarly research, there may be more resources now than ten years ago which was the last time I took a deep dive to document this stuff. If you do this then you will see what I saw, people used sandbox but as a synonym not a type of campaign.


I wrote about this on my blog.

Musing on Sandbox Campaigns

Which references this Enworld Thread

Sandbox Forked

The Enworld forums are a good place to see the evolution and the use of the term as its history extends before sandbox as a type of campaign was in use.

Finally, keep in mind I am talking about the name of the term itself, people were running sandbox campaigns since the beginning of the hobby. There just wasn't a formal name for it. In contrast railroading along with other terms like Monty Haul were in widespread use early on.

It was just with the Wilderlands boxed set project there was a critical mass of folks, including myself, that there were a lot of common elements to how we ran Wilderland campaigns. Then after we started discussing it we borrowed the use of sandbox from computer games (like Civilization) as a shorthand. Then finally we got other folks talking about how they did similar things with their campaigns and that this style was part of the hobby for a long time.
Not trying to be argumentative but the entire post above appears to lack relevance. I and the people I played with, folks at game cons and TSR sponsored events were, all of us, already using those terms in the 1980s. Finding them in “ official” publications after 2000 gives zero credence to anyone trying to claim they invented or contributed to the ideas and their usage, 20 or so years after the fact. Perhaps that is simply when some folks first heard of the terms. It does not take a traceable publication to give these terms legitimacy. They were already in the common lexicon.
 

Yeah. This thread conflates linear with railroad. What is really being discussed here are linear games, not railroads.
Okay...so what's the difference?

Because I'm not seeing one. A linear campaign offers no choices. A railroad offers no choices. If the only difference is "railroaded players aren't happy about it," then it has nothing to do with the style of the campaign, and everything to do with whether the players like it.

It shouldn't be a different style simply because players are happy about it.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Okay...so what's the difference?

Because I'm not seeing one. A linear campaign offers no choices. A railroad offers no choices. If the only difference is "railroaded players aren't happy about it," then it has nothing to do with the style of the campaign, and everything to do with whether the players like it.

It shouldn't be a different style simply because players are happy about it.
Linear campaigns do offer choices. Choice #1: Do we engage the line at all. In a railroad you are forced to engage. Choice #2: We've Gone from A to B to C to D to E, but no longer want to continue on to F-N. We can do that. We can leave the line. The line only exists as steps for the adventure. In a railroad, you are forced down the line no matter what you want.

Linear = adventure with a line.
Railroad = forced down the line no matter what the players decide.
 

Okay...so what's the difference?

Because I'm not seeing one. A linear campaign offers no choices. A railroad offers no choices. If the only difference is "railroaded players aren't happy about it," then it has nothing to do with the style of the campaign, and everything to do with whether the players like it.

It shouldn't be a different style simply because players are happy about it.
Yeah that sounds about right.

I generally maintain that being raildroaded is a subjective experience and that's the core at it.

I mean that doesn't make it wrong to look at a published adventure and say "this is basically a railroad", but I think that's mostly because, at its core, that's a judgement that a group of players in the adventure are likely to experience the feeling of being railroaded.

I've never seen any other way to define it that was particularly meaningful.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The sentences are easily rectifiable when you notice, at no time did I say it was problematic. This is what free play means. Was I happy about the player losing his character to terrible choices? Of course not. The players “job” is to make their own decisions and figure out how to navigate the consequences for good or ill. The DMs “ job” is the create an internally consistent game settings and make it fun and exciting. ( hopefully)
I present it the way I do because I have experienced many DMs who will distort game world reality and logic to save players from themselves. Not a problem either but a DM doing that tends to destroy suspension of disbelief and ruins the challenges the game is presenting.

Not trying to be argumentative but the entire post above appears to lack relevance. I and the people I played with, folks at game cons and TSR sponsored events were, all of us, already using those terms in the 1980s. Finding them in “ official” publications after 2000 gives zero credence to anyone trying to claim they invented or contributed to the ideas and their usage, 20 or so years after the fact. Perhaps that is simply when some folks first heard of the terms. It does not take a traceable publication to give these terms legitimacy. They were already in the common lexicon.
Looking for a word usage in literature is the usual means of determining its contemporary usage. Lots of real ink spilled about play in the '80s, but not textual evidence of "sandbox" being used. Let's say your claim is correct -- ypu experienced widespread use of the term in the '80s. Trouble is, you have no evidence other than your say. @estar at least has contemporary evidence for their claim.

You can say @estar's claim is wrong, but available evidence means it's just your say against actual evidence.

Not to be argumentative, or anything.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah that sounds about right.

I generally maintain that being raildroaded is a subjective experience and that's the core at it.

I mean that doesn't make it wrong to look at a published adventure and say "this is basically a railroad", but I think that's mostly because, at its core, that's a judgement that a group of players in the adventure are likely to experience the feeling of being railroaded.

I've never seen any other way to define it that was particularly meaningful.
Railroading only occurs if the DM is removing player choice and forcing them down pathways, even if they are not aware of it through due to the illusion of choice being presented to them.

Looking at a published adventure and saying that "this is basically a railroad." is almost always going to be the wrong way to look it it, since next to none of them forbid the players from giving up and doing something else in the middle, or even saying no to doing it in the first place. If the PCs go on that adventure, it's because they chose to do it. That's linear, not railroad.
 

estar

Adventurer
Not trying to be argumentative but the entire post above appears to lack relevance. I and the people I played with, folks at game cons and TSR sponsored events were, all of us, already using those terms in the 1980s. Finding them in “ official” publications after 2000 gives zero credence to anyone trying to claim they invented or contributed to the ideas and their usage, 20 or so years after the fact. Perhaps that is simply when some folks first heard of the terms. It does not take a traceable publication to give these terms legitimacy. They were already in the common lexicon.
I disagree that back in the 1980s sandbox was used to describe a distinct type of campaign or a synonym for free play. By the mid-80s I was in college and involved in organized gaming clubs and conventions. A lot of the terms used in this and earlier terms, I remember being used back in the day both in print and just talking with fellow gamers. However "a sandbox campaign" was not one of them. And while Dragon Magazine is one of the better sources, especially their letter pages. There are the early Usenet, Alaurms and Excursions, and other sources.

Again to be crystal clear, people used sandbox but as a synonym for setting not as a way to run a campaign. And people were running what we would now call sandbox campaign long before the marketing of the Wilderlands boxed set. There wasn't a name for it or an awareness that it was something distinct.

And you see this here in Enworld by just using the search function. The first substantive threads on Sandbox Campaigns as its own thing start to crop up in 2008 and not before. Most of the prior usage were things like

'course it sounds like d20 past. I'm one of those folks who's most creative when working in other people's sandboxes. Besides, you've got to love a setting that ditches the generic red dragon for sea monsters that can capsize boats and cause hurricanes. :)

Here this from a 2002 thread on Worlds and Campaigns. Note Desdichao using sandbox in a completely different way. Despite the thread being about topics that people would include in a present-day discussion about sandbox campaigns.

Another good trick is that you really don't have to plan for everything the PCs could think of to do. You can have three or four canned responses that will be appropriate no matter what they do, and that way you can control things without them feeling railroaded. You can also make sure things work out without railroading PCs. If they don't seem to want to go north and save the kingdom from the orc hordes (to use a bad example) make sure the invasion happens anyway. Give them consequences for not doing what they should. Sooner or later, they'll usually come back to the sandbox and play, but they get to do it on their terms.


Wrapping it up
Hey I get your skepticism. Aside from being involved the reason I remember how the term came about is that I started blogging a short time after it started gaining widespread use. My "How to make a Fantasy Sandbox" series is by far my most popular series of posts. Then starting around 2015 people started to forget how it came about. Like you, most thought that talking about sandbox campaigns was always a thing in the hobby. And I started getting skepticism about my account about how the term "sandbox campaign" came about.

It also doesn't help that the key discussions took place on an email list during the time I used Winmail and I lost the archive. And for the record, I didn't coin the term. Some else did and I was one of the early adopters. We liked it because sandbox computer games were a thing in the early 2000s and the idea fit perfectly what we all were doing with the Wilderlands.

This further supports the notion that the sandbox campaign to describe a type of RPG campaign was a relatively recent innovation. Because the use of sandbox as a term for a type of computer game is well documented and its use as a term for a type of RPG campaign came afterward.
 
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